Bacterial 'superglue' could speed vaccine creation

By encoding SpyCatcher into virus-like particles, the proteins can be glued together.
By encoding SpyCatcher into virus-like particles, the proteins can be glued together. | File photo
Synthetic biologists and an interdisciplinary team based at the University of Oxford recently created a bacterial superglue that researchers may be able to use to speed the development of vaccines.

The bacterial superglue is comprised of two proteins, one named SpyCatcher and the other called SpyTag. When the two bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes join, they are unbreakable. By encoding SpyCatcher into virus-like particles (VLP), the proteins can be glued together.

“We tested the SpyCatcher-VLP [and] SpyTag-antigen combination using a range of malarial and cancer-relevant antigens,” Karl Brune, who led the work in professor Mark Howarth's lab in Oxford's Department of Biochemistry, said. “This showed that linking can be done simply and quickly to produce stable vaccines that generated robust antibody responses.”

Most vaccines are made of VLPs, which are similar to viruses but lack the pathogenic genetic material that causes disease, making the vaccines harmless. Scientists design the VLPs to show a specific attribute of the pathogen, allowing the immune system to generate a response to any later attacks from the virus.

“Current techniques to develop VLP-based vaccines take time and do not always work,” Brune said. “Whilst getting the pathogen parts to stick to the carrier VLP, often problems such as misassembly or misfolding arise that make the vaccine ineffective at generating protective immunity.”

These problems can be expensive for scientists developing vaccines. Using the team’s bacterial superglue could cut these costs and the time taken to create vaccines.

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